Vaporware in the Social Media Space

A common practice in the enterprise software industry (and beyond) is to announce products, make a lot of noise about it, but slowly roll it out in pieces over the coming quarters or never at all. This is called Vaporware and I’m starting to see small examples of this in the social media industry.

As a response, I’m going to start calling out vendors that do that. Why? it protects buyers from getting caught up in the hype of an announcement, flashy videos, and buzzword industry-changing definitions. I fill the space with enough buzzwords myself, there really isn’t any room left for vendors.

Graciously, I will list of vendors on this blog post that make big pronouncements without demonstrating their products, highlighting their vaporware. I encourage you to support this so we can establish a precedent in our space to announce and show products that are actually working –not just promised.

What say you, should we do such a list? I’ll need your help in calling them out, they’ll get a list similar to this one of brands that have been punk’d.

Update: Related and if social media vendors do announce, they should eat their own dogfood (or drink their own champagne, as I learned from my new friend Dana). I’m keeping PR folks busy.

Here are some requirements for vendors as they launch: On day of announcement they should be able to show a demo of their product. If it’s an enterprise product, or complicated, then show a video with it working. Consider using a customer reference or a test case to demonstrate how it’s been working in the past. I like what John Furrier said, that sometimes products are still getting the bugs worked out and that’s fine –but in any case, show that the product exists.

  • Jeremiah,
    This is what people have done for eons. It’s not at all particular to enterprise. In the 90s Microsoft would do it, and the effect is to ice a market space, even though it will take 3 years for everyone to realize nothing is coming and the announcement was just meant to clear the playing field.

    The latest: Google in the 2000s. Anything they announce (like video search in jan 2006) or geolocation mobile stuff now, is just a play at icing the market. Keeps funders asking “what if google succeeds?” and keeps competitors at bay. But you’ll notice that 3 years later Google has no video search and 3 yrs from now Google won’t really have a location service that does what’s needed in the marketplace.

    This is what we do in tech and I would love to see you call out the announcments and track how years later they don’t come about.

    Mary

  • Most definitely. I thought it was the job of the analyst to ferret out what is real and what isn’t. All too often the media feeds into the hype cycle just to get everyone pumped up. I would welcome any assessment that is based on reality.

  • Truth in advertising and PR. It’s important that we know what’s being cooked up, but in an age of increased accountability and transparency the old rules of announcing what doesn’t exist just needs to be called out. So yes, keep us posted on reality versus fiction. Not thinking punitive rather informative.

  • I agree that these fraudulent claims should be exposed but how do you determine what is legit and what is not? Companies should not announce anything until they can demo and provide a release date. The priority in marketing seems to be about creating a buzz to heighten interest in a product. How far can they legitimately go in doing this?

  • Go for it.
    I wonder how you’ll go about it?

  • Raphael

    I’ll just call them out on my blog post. Going forward, I’ll do just that.

  • Jeremiah,

    I think this is a great idea.

    But I wonder if this should be done by just one person. Even if you are perfectly unbiased, it’s easy for someone to grumble, “Forget what that guy says, he’s just got an axe to grind.”

    Maybe this would be better as a community effort, similar to Digg. Enable anyone to call out a vendor for vaporware, and then let the community discuss/decide.

    Supporters would have their opportunity to offer proof to defend the product or service. Also, if a whole community agrees something is vaporware, it’s harder to dismiss at “well, that’s just one person’s opinion”.

    What do you think?

    P.S. An added virtue of this approach: if someone creates the infrastructure for “vaporware.org” it can be used to call out vaporware in any space, not just social media.

  • We get the software rollouts that we deserve. An unambiguous “booooo!” to vaporware will help frame expectations for those tempted to try it. Let’s help them see vaporware as a Chief Amortizer of Goodwill.

  • chris Jangelov

    Good idea. Less early buzz may help the industry mature faster.

  • Tom, folks can leave comments on my running list post –but I like the idea. If you build such a site, I will certainly link to it.

    There’s an advantage to my many lists (click ‘industry index’ in the categories on right) as I vett out the junk, as an editor, although the community submits in the comments.

  • Cherisa B

    Vaporware announcements are insidious, but can’t be stopped. Calling out the vendors just gives them more airtime, and can play into their marketing strategy. Don’t reward behavior you want to eradicate.

  • Jeremiah,

    First, thanks for attending our Austin SMC event last night. It was an honor having you there … I wish I could have made it across the room to meet you; I guess I’ll have to wait 🙂

    In regards to calling out vaporware, I’m struck by some of the similarities in tone — if not in substance — that Jon Stewart of the Daily Show had with Jim Cramer of Mad Money.

    So, yes. We need to call it out. The social media space is young, developing, and there’s a lot of snake oil out there that could undermine credibility and trust. That’s bad enough in the markets, but social media is (supposed to be) built on openness, authenticity, and relationships. Vaporware doesn’t fit in.

  • Go for it. It will be fun to watch at least.

    I have to say enterprise software vendors do have challenges navigating dysfunctional orgs and are at the mercy of long sales cycles. I’ve seen vaporware as a version 0 product to test markets and pipeline deals to see what should actually go in the 1.0. It can be difficult to have “the perfect product” that sits for 18 months before a deal is stuck to deploy it. Long sales cycles push entrepreneurs to do crazy stuff.

    Not that *I* would ever do such a thing…

    Jim

  • Jeremiah,
    The list would include everyone in the space. What I think that you’re on to is a list of non-doers that is people who just talk and don’t deliver.

    You have to be careful not to bundle needed experimentation with vapor – many examples on the punk’d list are just testing .. companies should be rewarded for testing but also transparent about it.

    I want to see the word business benefit with specific examples in every social media discussion. This separates the winners from the losers in every conversation and that is what is needed.

  • jonathan

    Rhetorical question? I know that you know what to do. Kick butt & preserve sm’s efficacy as you best can.You the marshall.

  • Jeremiah, good idea but hard for you report vaporware as vendors will tell you that “yes, x was part of the Q1 road map, but Y is now Z so X v2 will be better and you will see it in Q3”

    In powerpoint slides, all new “features” work.

    There are CMOs in the software and hardware industry that get promoted by the quality of their vaporware. I’m sure it is the same in social media.

  • Awesome! Why not just ignore vendors that don’t actually demonstrate their product? Refuse powerpoints and only acknowledge if there’s a live product to demonstrate in action?

    Don’t mean to go off topic, but two important nitpicks:

    1. Forrester also is a vendor itself. Trust me, your sales guys call and try to sell me stuff. (But speaking of champagne, I can’t easily find them on the social media tools we all celebrate.)

    2. The reality is that vendors have a very big say in the creation of buzzwords and influencing marketplace discussion. Syndicated market research firms have a say, sometimes very meaningful sometimes not, but they don’t have an exclusive right over marketplace dialogue.

    But to your original point, vaporware sucks. Call it out, albeit graciously. I’m behind you on that!

    Regards. Max

  • Unfortunately, we see this flawed PR strategy play out over and over again in business…and other organizations as well. It is primarily a fund-raising strategy that seeks to entice new investors and placate existing investors, without admitting that real milestones have not yet been achieved. I advise my clients to engage PR to announce real accomplishments (i.e. “what we’ve done”, not “what we will do”).

    Thanks for highlighting the need for due diligence!

  • As Burt noted, the industry relies on the analysts to provide this level of objectivity – and so do the vendors. If this hasn’t been the case, then kudos for calling it out and wanting to make it right.

    Briefings should serve to pull back the curtain, with a high level of objectivity and thirst for the ‘real thing’. As a vendor, we find it most rewarding to win over an analyst or reporter based on sheer credibility and performance. Even when things don’t go as we had hoped, we respect the level of objectivity and know that we have to do a better job.

    From the vendor’s standpoint – in the long run, selling vaporware hurts far more than it ever helped, as business cannot be sustained based on buzz alone. From the analyst’s standpoint – helping to promote vaporware has long-term implications that extend beyond a single analyst and impacts the entire firm’s credibility.

    All in all, it’s a win-win for everyone. But accuracy, objectivity and thorough/unbiased reviews are crucial.

    Kristi Grigsby
    Neighborhood America

  • Isn’t that what led to the fisrt computer industry crash in the first place? Speculation on companies/products that never made it off the drawing board?

    Do people never learn from their mistakes? I think Einstein’s definition of insanity fits in well here.
    Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.

    Suffice to say I support you 100% on this. Social Media is built on trust and transparence and vaporware is the antithesis of this.

  • Guan

    I work for Oracle PR in the Asia-Pacific. Views here are my own. Yes, vaporware will creep into any rapidly expanding tech area, but see this as inevitable as technologies hit the ‘hype slope’ – absolutely the job of the industry watchers to keep the companies honest as the space matures and things coalesce and commoditize (recall heady days of business software just decade past, versus today). But announcement of a future vision or end-state doesn’t necessarily mean vaporware if the company in question is responsible enough not to wax lyrical till the right time. Call out those who are hyping irresponsibly.

  • We do not provide any such products, but we do use them in our business. I’m torn between the use of social networks to test, critique and improve products that have merit and the need to lambast and dismiss those who foist complete wastes of time on society.

    I’d rather see a list of those who do not compare themselves honestly with existing tools by offering a “current state” version of their reason for being (versus a “future state”). I am often frustrated by talking to folks in the business who just cannot help me differentiate their offering from that of their competitors. This is particularly true in our sector due to the rapid deployment of new tools that may require me to think in a different way about how I address an opportunity (versus me bringing up my own “wouldn’t it be nice if…” and then going out to find solutions). Ho about a list of those who won’t or can’t offer up this helpful information to those of us who are trying to evaluate their products in an efficient manner?

  • Jeremiah,

    As already noted, such a list could prove helpful, and I am with Laura about it being a rewarding excercise rather than a punitive “punking” ritual.

    Mathew’s comment about the Daily Show roasting of Jim Cramer is the same thought that crossed my mind when I saw your tweet. The highlight reel was when Stewart questioned the objectivity of the Financial News/Analysts (Cramer) – the real compelling part was how they showed a past clip of Cramer defending the very funding fabric that is now forever tainted.

    The above point relates well with the question I want to leave out on the table – how accurate/objective has the analysis been so far, and how true are the tools used for review when they are asking same questions every other analysts is asking? In the last year, I’ve actually spoken to very few analysts for an interview, with over 90% of the times, the RFI’s, review or interviews being performed through email/electronically, and the questions – a carbon copy of almost every other Matrix/RFI we’ve filled out – with no backup piece to validate the claims. Not a single one included a piece about what made our firm/technology unique, and/or what the key differentiators were. While a demonstration was offered as part of the review, it wasn’t our experience that the analyst actually followed-up with us to complete one.

    More transparency, old ideals. I’d like to see the same zeal at calling out vapour-vendors as I am about calling into question the current methods and practices of analysts.

    Joseph
    @RepuMetrix

  • Yes, but I agree with Guan’s view above. Announcing a new service to foster a greater discussion – which could in fact be part of the open development process -should looked at with a different lens than true hypesters. But yes, call out the true vaporware. Thats why we follow you.

    Thanks, Brian

  • If you want to be a credible analyst, I feel like it’s your responsibility to do call them out. Granted I take an aggressive approach. I’ve often referred to the social space as an old boys room that has a bunch of guys slapping each others back. I want that to change. It won’t change unless people are called out. Social Media needs a sheriff. I asked David Armano to be the Sheriff. His credibility in the industry would make people listen. He declined. Maybe you can be the one.

  • It brings the awareness to people that are looking for further expert evaluation and insight. One would hope that given enough buzz (neg or pos) you would do the research and want more than some flat jpgs and figure out if something is vaporware or not but I agree that a list like this would benefit the masses.

  • Vapor is my favorite kind of ware.

    Regards,
    Curt Hopkins, CEO
    AutoImaginary Clown.com
    “When a bag of black water breaks, AutoImaginary Clowncom comes.”
    Positively impacting upside potentials since 2001.

  • Oscar

    Yes and I agree with Laura’s point plus it’ll be a good benchmark.

  • Eddie Garrett

    Excellent approach. This kind of filter is what we need to aid in transparency and allow real solutions to rise.

  • I agree with Max Kalehoff, perhaps it is important to push the vaporware into something more tangible.

    Iaax Page

  • JO, is there a particular recent situation that took you over the edge? Clearly, you’ve been thinking about this for awhile. Seems like you just got a “last straw” dose. Real curious now.

    Also, I’d offer up “Guzzling the home brew” as another phrase to using what you preach. Enjoy!

    -Dan
    @lostintheflog

  • Absolutely! I’m still waiting for something from Redmond that works as advertised.

  • I will do my part. I agree with Eddie’s comment regarding a real solution.

  • There really is a fine line regarding when/how far down the app development pipeline it’s announced to the press. I understand the need to pre-announce to create buzz, but fair is fair. If it ain’t going to happen, or the direction will take on a major change, or it’s ONLY for buzz – off with your head.

    Go get ’em, Jeremiah

  • Gita Gupta

    Go for it, I’ve been waiting for analysts to do something like that for a long time. I agree with Tom Cuniff that it makes sense to have the voting done as a community effort (it’s also more consistent with the spirit of social media.) Actually, I’d like to see new products across the board put through this filter, not just those that are tagged upfront as vaporware. I’d love to see an analyst come up with a good set of criteria to help frame the discussion around a product (or a space), then put the product out there and let people vote on where the product stands vis-a-vis the criteria.

  • Jay MacIntosh

    This is about brand reliability and ultimately credibility. I’d be interested in seeing something akin to the Jenny Craig advertisements. You know the “before” and “after” examples where someone becomes half the man/woman they were 13 weeks prior? For social media vendors it could be as simple as 1) the promise (i.e. the feature, functionality and release date) vs. 2) the actual. Thanks for working to have social media remain true to one of its’ purposes (transparency).

  • Absolutely. Now more than ever, we need real-mccoy stuff, authenticity, not a bunch of vaporware. Along the way, let’s also highlight exec’s that do nothing more than string together cliche’s into ‘intelligent-sounding’ paragraphs that really say nothing – one of my pet-peeve’s?!?!

  • I guess if you start building the buzz when the product launches it is sort of too late. get people chattering before the launch and if it doesn’t launch then no harm done but if it does than you have a nice head start.

  • I love the idea! I’m in PR and started my career working with Texas Instruments. They had a big rule about no announcements until the product was ready to ship (not sure if it’s still the case). It boggled my mind when I began working with other clients who didn’t think that way, made huge splash announcements and then never delivered. It’s been one of the big annoyances throughout my career. Looking forward to seeing the list!

  • Ever watch a WRC (rally car) race? Know what goes on in the car? There’s a driver – and a navigator. The navigator’s job is to tell the driver what’s coming up next.

    Those folks who launch products that are not functional when compared to a minimal set of capabilities required to deliver value are bad people and you should pillory them But Good.

    Those folks who launch products that are functional when compared to a minimal set of capabilities required to deliver value are OK people – they made it to market, that that’s OK. Perhaps they needed first-mover advantage, perhaps they needed to meet a deadline, whatever.

    Those folks who launch products that are functional when compared to a minimal set of capabilities required to deliver value and they describe where they’re going are great. This is the power of declaring your intentionality – your vision, your roadmap – up-front. It can freeze the market. It’s an IBM classic, especially when accompanied by slides that suck all the air out of the market space.

    Those folks who launch products that are functional when compared to the maximum set of capabilities required to deliver value are probably late to market.

    Moral – deliver value, release often and tell us where you’re going. It’s all about a shared vision. That’s why the rally cars have navigators – you need to know what’s coming next if you’re going to be comfortable in a fast-moving car.

    bob

    Lau

  • James Finnnen

    Great idea! Like a lot of people have already said this is not an uncommon pratice in the software industry. But as we discussed at the Austin SMC Thursday night there seems to be a lot of hype in SM these days. I liked your guidance – focus on the business results.

    James

  • I’m all ears for these types of reports or updates. I look forward to the first.

  • Pingback: Vaporware Versus Creditability()